Written By Rachel McMillan
A few months ago, I was gifted the privilege of taking a trip down bookish memory lane. A few of us, including Rev Lori, went to town attempting to organize the TEMC library. On that first day, we weeded and organized and sneezed through the dust of books that had sat untouched for many years.
If you have ever been inside the library, you know it is a bookish haven by virtue of its design alone. There is a cozy window seat and one of our Edwardian structure’s arched criss-crossed windows where the sun streams through and the splash of red from passing streetcars reminds us temporarily that yes we are actually in the 21st Century. And, before we began our work that winter day, there were shelves of dust-laden books: some that had seen better days. Some that shouldn’t have seen any light of day (at least not in a church setting). Some that were of sentimental value with inscriptions or dedications, signed lightly and faded with time.
There were books with cards in the back as befitted the card catalogues of yore. I wondered the story behind who last signed them out. Did they enjoy the read? Did they find a spiritual truth? Did they share the questions with their friends? Many books were signed out by parishioners who have indubitably moved to other areas of life or perhaps are no longer with us.
We found files of typed sermons and a living archive of all the words spoken and exchanged in our grand church for decades. It made me so excited to be a small part of bringing the Library to active use and life again. Our volunteer group wants to ensure that the TEMC library provides a sense of story and thought and dialogue to our church community. It is a lovely space with wonderful potential.
For a book lover like myself, the shelves of a church library are some of the most integral in my spiritual life. For one, books are literally my life and my livelihood. By day, I am a literary agent representing 20 authors internationally and ensuring that their words find the perfect homes with the perfect publisher. That work supplements my other job: as a writer of over 20 traditionally published books ranging from travel writing to historical fiction.
My love for reading began in the library at the church I grew up in as a minister’s daughter in Orillia, Ontario. Imagine walls and walls of Christian fiction with cheesy illustrated covers and sweeping fonts. Between the pages romantic and adventurous tales. But always with a little bit of a spiritual truth. My Christianity has always been explored, enlightened and enhanced by story. Jesus spoke in parable after all.
Throughout Toronto, libraries are a lynchpin of community. Condo buildings have shared library spaces. My neighbourhood of Forest Hill is dotted with Little Free Libraries that perch on the curb like little birdhouses filled with the most esoteric range of books. And our library at Timothy Eaton should be the same: a place for story to be passed and ideas to be lit and discussions to be had.
We have been working hard at digitizing and organizing all of the books that are currently on its mismatched shelves as well as addressing gaps where we need to find more books and donations to provide a robust repository of books that will fit every interest. In the upcoming weeks, I hope to be able to tell you a little bit more about our progress and when the moment comes we are able to welcome you, reader, to our little nook with the sun-slatted window and the cozy window seat and the wood-paneled walls and crowded book shelves. To search and sign out books to share story with your friends and family.
It has been a lot of fun to wander into the quiet church mid-week and scan books into our online catalogue via an app. Many of the books on the shelves in our library-in-progress have lived far beyond the technology we are utilizing to make the treasures found there as accessible as possible. I encourage you to take a peek. You might see some odd post-it notes denoting our current progress. You will certainly see an active and ongoing labour of love.
In the meantime, I encourage you to think about the power of story in your faith. So much of the Bible is narrative. These stories were passed down from generation to generation: from the women of Moses time in the series on Exodus we finished before Easter, to Rev Lori recently relating the story of the Book of Ruth, and the many historical figures with incredible stories sewn into the lineage of our faith. Ruth and Boaz are together one link in a chain that led to the Birth of Jesus. Think about how the gospel-writers all speak of the same events in the life of Christ but with different perspectives. Dwell on how Paul used letters in the languages most accessible to the early congregations he was encouraging with the power of words.
Timothy Eaton is a harbinger of story: from the Bantams in the Great War, to Billy Bishop, to our incredible pipe organ. I am so excited to see how the story of our updated library will unfold.